The Arkansas Legislature is to convene Thursday to begin a special session to try and avoid skyrocketing health insurance premiums for the state’s 47,000 public school employees.
In the short term, the plan calls for using $43 million from state surplus funds to avoid a 50 percent increase for insurance coverage that would take effect at the beginning of next year.
After initially not having enough lawmakers agreeing on a proposal, Wednesday Gov. Mike Beebe said some lawmakers had been swayed by changes in finding a long term solution.
“There was some intent added to the bill that made it clear that they wanted this task force to really look deep into systemic changes to make this system more viable going forward and I think that had an affect, which is fine. That’s what they said all along, they needed a long-term solution,” Beebe told reporters outside his office.
The decision to convene lawmakers was welcomed by educators, who it’s now hoped will only have an increase of about 10 percent.
“We're relieved to hear a special session will be called," said Brenda Robinson, president of the Arkansas Education Association, which advocates on behalf of teachers. "We know its been a great effort by the governor and a bi-partisan group of legislators who were able to reach a consensus."
In August, a state board, responding to circumstances that have led to a shortfall, approved the increases.
According to an analysis by the Associated Press, under that board's decision, the premium for family coverage under the most popular plan would increase from $1,029 to $1,528 a month.
Gov. Beebe emphasized that the increase in teacher insurance costs is in no way related to the federal health care law, which Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives had hoped to gut by defunding it.
“We’ve had some of those calls thinking that insurance is related to the Affordable Care Act, it’s not. These increases were going in with or without the Affordable Care Act,” Beebe said.
The session is to be called to order at 3 pm Thursday and will run a minimum of three days, possibly into Saturday or it might continue into early next week.